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Put Out into the Deep

Luke 5:1-11, Excerpts from Crossing the Unknown Sea: Work as a Pilgrimage of Identity by David Whyte and All About Love: New Visions by bell hooks

February 6th, 2022

By: Rev. Nicole Lamarche

Good morning again, it’s good to be with you on this wonderful wintery Sunday with some sunshine! Thank you for shifting again, since September 12th, we have been back here in the sanctuary. Pivoting has become one of our spiritual practices, I think!

At this time in our worship, I invite you to take a deep breath, to tune in and let yourself arrive more fully, to listen to your heartbeat and give thanks for the chance to be alive and here together like this and like that and like that! Gracious God, may the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts, be acceptable in your sight, our Rock and our Redeemer. Amen.

He had been unproductive and spent an entire night devoted to the task. But that didn’t get him any closer to what he was after. He even gave up sleep to keep trying. And now in a state of great frustration, maybe confusion and likely exhaustion, and not necessarily in the right mindset to hear advice, Jesus stands up and gives him clear and specific instructions, “Put out into the deep water and let down your nets for a catch…”

Put out into the deep…

I read that and thought, doesn’t this describe part of where we have been over the course of this time? Because for many of us, it’s as if we have been put out into places that were so unfamiliar, that we could hardly find the bottom, as if we couldn’t find the bottom, as if we couldn’t reach stable ground or as if there really wasn’t any to be found. It was so deep.

And I suspect that for many of us, this bottomless dark space with so many unknowns, can be a bit terrifying.

And now it has been long enough that not everyone is still able to be who they want to be, some are just too tired and fried. Being in the deep this long has left some people reduced to grief that tends to show up as anger only able to find what is wrong, instead of shaping what could be right.

The old methods don’t tend to work here in the deep, in this new world, with normals still seeming like blurry images in the rearview mirror. Trying to get the Universe to bend to our plan doesn’t really work here, maybe it never worked anywhere. But only offering ways it won’t work or can’t happen doesn’t have a platform or power here in the deep.

What I mean is that before the pandemic many people could still live with the illusion that we human beings are in control and this was even more true for those in positions of privilege, used to manipulating a certain kind of environment so to speak.

But the truth is that we were never really entitled to certain outcomes, that was an illusion anyway. The pandemic keeps bringing that lesson home. We are gifted with this life and I believe empowered to be shapers yes, but that’s different than pushing our way, or trying to have power over someone or some situation, so maybe our focus right now should be more about being willing to be shaped and shifted ourselves since the illusion of control is gone anyway?

The story in the Gospel of Luke is an important story of call to discipleship in our tradition. And it would be easy to make the point of it to be about the need to grow the movement in numbers and to fish for people, to get more in our boats. And maybe that is part of what is presented to us here, but in this time in human history, I wonder if it’s just as much a story about what we do when we are in the deep. How do we respond? How long will we stay angry and frustrated, exhausted and confused? Will we stay swimming in the pain and wounds, wondering who can be blamed or bothered to fix it?

What do we do when we are put out into the deep?

Yes it’s true that some are more impatient and quicker to anger in this time, but what is also true is that I am seeing that being in the deep this long has created a sort of container, maybe like the best school of our entire lives. This container has allowed new capacities to be found, new skills to be gained. Pivot or feel pain. Learn a new way or you’ll stay here stuck. Grow or let go.

So I am wondering if part of what Jesus is saying to us is that the spiritual journey invites us to not be afraid of the depths, not because they won’t be hard, but because the deep, abyss-like, seemingly bottomless, dark spaces in life are often the very same places where some of the richest purest gifts come from too.…

Over this Black History month, I have been thinking of the Black teachers and preachers that have been a part of my life. And I thought of a class I took in Graduate School where I enrolled joyfully in Womanist Theology. I was so uncomfortable, in almost every one of those classes, and in fact the class was so uncomfortable that some of the white women ditched it all together. The unlearning, the stretching, being pushed into the depths and being challenged was just too much for some. But it was also a time of tremendous growth for those of us who stuck it out.

I was also thinking of a time in activism in San Jose where a group of us wanted to gather people in the spirit of Beloved Community, where we convened circles that included members of law enforcement, professors, faith leaders, activists. And those circles were excruciating. They were so uncomfortable, but they were so beautiful too.

And so part of what I am wondering about what Jesus is saying here is that good things, beautiful things can come, when we dare not be afraid when there is no place to calmly put our feet, those can be the very same spaces where we grow the most. Where we are stretched to hold mystery, to love fully in the presence of wild uncertainty. What if what we need sometimes can only be found beyond the shallow end? Where we are extremely uncomfortable?

Oliver Burkman wrote in the Guardian recently. He said, “I’m indebted to the Jungian therapist James Hollis for the insight that major personal decisions should be made not by asking, “Will this make me happy?” but “Will this choice enlarge me or diminish me?” We’re terrible at predicting what will make us happy: the question swiftly gets bogged down in our narrow preferences for security and control. But the enlargement question…” is different.

What if being put out into the deep is one of the ways we can be shaped and shifted beyond our narrow preferences, beyond needing to control? What if the gift of this time is how enlarged some of us can become? Maybe all of this pivoting could be good for us? What if part of what Jesus is asking Simon Peter is this: are you willing to be drawn to the depths? Are you willing to be enlarged?

When there isn’t always an obvious place to rest and find calm, when it feels difficult to reach stable ground or to find any, how do we respond?

David Whyte said it beautifully- staying true to our path, staying on our path, as a church, as a country, and as disciples on a journey, means we must be willing to do what feels like crossing the ocean, where we commit to carry on toward and into the depths, when there is no paved way, or little clarity, just direction or lures that come like the heads of waves, offering us a ride and sometimes rolling over. He wrote, “A life’s work is not a series of stepping-stones onto which we calmly place our feet, but more like an ocean crossing where there is no path...”

Recently, Lynda Freund asked a group of us a profound question: would we do the important things we have felt called to do, if we knew the cost up front. Probably not. But if the question is about whether it would enlarge us, maybe the answer is yes?

Beloved of God, we can choose to be diminished or enlarged, this part I believe we can control. We cannot help where we are, or how long we will stay here, but we can choose to stay swimming in the pain and wounds, wondering who can be blamed or we can choose to be shaped and shifted, moved into new places, brought to new depths, we can grow new capacities, and open our hearts to hear wisdom even amid exhaustion.

Beloved of God, “Put out into the deep…” Do not be afraid. Good things are already here and are coming.

May it be so. Amen.

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